Reviewied for www.cinefile.info:

Hong Sang-soo’s THE NOVELIST’S FILM (South Korea)

Gene Siskel Film Center – See Venue website for showtimes

Another year, another couple Hong Sang-soo features. THE NOVELIST’S FILM, the first of two movies Hong released in 2022 (followed by WALK UP), is also the third of his films to win a Silver Bear at the Berlinale in the past three years. In spite of the recent acclaim (or perhaps even because of it), Hong’s extreme prolificity can make it easy to take each of his new features for granted. Given the similarities between so many of his movies in terms of form and content, it can also be easy to overlook what he might be doing that’s new each time out. THE NOVELIST’S FILM is a witty black-and-white drama that centers on a veteran novelist, Jun-hee, who attempts to overcome writer’s block by making her first short film. This continues Hong’s recent trends of focusing on female characters and offering a substantial lead role to an older actress (the star is Lee Hye-young, who also played the lead in Hong’s previous feature, IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE), a welcome development in his work. What’s most fascinating about THE NOVELIST’S FILM, though, is the way that Hong investigates the creative process by focusing on the role that chance encounters can play in sparking artistic inspiration—and by daringly keeping the actual production of the film-within-the-film offscreen. Most of the running time is spent following Jun-hee over the course of a single day as she first meets an old acquaintance who runs a book shop, then a film director who once expressed interest in adapting one of her novels (but ultimately failed to do so) and, finally, a popular actress in semi-retirement named Kil-soo (the inevitable Kim Min-hee) with whom she shares a mutual admiration. The ending jumps ahead several months to a scene outside of a screening room where a private viewing of Jun-hee’s short is being held. Although the film itself is never glimpsed, Hong provides a mysterious documentary-like coda featuring Kil-soo arranging a bouquet of flowers with another actress in a public park that seems intended to “stand in” for Jun-hee’s footage. This sequence—which is partially shot in color and resembles the controversial coda to Abbas Kiarostami’s TASTE OF CHERRY (1997)—is the key to THE NOVELIST’S FILM, as it contains a moment where Hong himself can be heard offscreen telling Kim, his real-life paramour, that he loves her. It’s a breathtaking scene that dissolves the line between documentary and fiction and asks us to reconsider the entire project along more highly personal (perhaps even autobiographical) lines. (2022, 92 min, DCP Digital) [Michael Glover Smith]


About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

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